A racist adviser in Downing Street? That should not surprise us

Sabisky’s appointment was not a one off ‘mistake’, but a sign of the mainstreaming of race-thinking in Britain.

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts as he gives a closing speech at the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester, Britain, October 2, 2019 [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

Earlier this year, a little-known researcher named Andrew Sabisky was contracted to work for the United Kingdom government following a call by Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s Chief Special Adviser Dominic Cummings for “misfits and weirdos” to apply for jobs in Downing Street.

Soon, British media unearthed past comments and articles by the 27-year-old self-described “superforecaster” that revealed he may not only be a “misfit and a weirdo”, but is also a believer in eugenics. 

Indeed, in blogposts published in 2014, he claimed that there is a racial difference in intelligence and that black people are more likely than whites to be “close to mental retardation”. That same year, he argued in a comment under a blogpost by Cummings that introducing compulsory contraception can help prevent the emergence of “a permanent underclass”. Two years later, in an interview with Schools Week, he argued that: “Eugenics are about selecting ‘for’ good things.”

Following a major backlash, Sabisky announced his resignation on Monday, claiming he does not want to be “a distraction” for the government. 

But even though he appears to have left the office of the prime minister for good, the controversy surrounding his appointment did not come to an end. The ordeal ignited a new discussion about racism in the UK, with many in the political and media classes expressing their shock at seeing someone openly supporting views that include white supremacy being given a coveted position in the office of the prime minister. 

This, however, should not have come as a surprise to anyone. After all, many renowned British conservatives are known to hold similar views; from journalist Toby Young, who attended a secret pro-eugenics conference at UCL and said he supports “progressive eugenics”, to the prime minister himself, who described black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and compared Muslim women wearing burkas with letterboxes. 

Sabisky’s appointment is not an “isolated” or “one-off” incident, but rather a reflection of something more sinister – the mainstreaming of race-thinking in contemporary Britain.

Race-thinking, or the formulation of ideas based on supposed racial differences, has a long history in the West. It first gained prominence during the European Enlightenment, where “scientific” notions of “race” were mobilised to arrange humans in a hierarchy, where white people were placed at the top and everyone else at the bottom.

This served as a key tool to legitimise the European practices of slavery, colonialism and genocide. Such thinking was also at the core of the 20th century Eugenics movement, which led to the forced sterilisation of black people, Native Americans and Latinos across the United States, and of indigenous communities in Australia and Canada. 

Although eugenics appeared to lose its popularity following the state-sponsored mass murder of some six million European Jews by the German Nazi regime – a major proponent of eugenics – between 1933 and 1945, it seems to have made a comeback in the current climate where white supremacists are once again holding considerable power, and in some countries, elected office. 

Some (white) people in the West, who decided long ago that they are living in a post-racial world, refuse to accept that racism still blights the societies they are part of let alone that the situation is getting worse by the day. They use the election of a black man as the president of the US, as well as mainstream celebrations of particular forms of blackness in popular culture, to argue that we exist in a landscape no longer plagued by the horrors of racism. These are the same people who argue the appointment of Sabisky was nothing but a “mistake” or an unfortunate one-off incident. 

This, of course, is nothing but a misguided fantasy.

As people of colour know all too well, racism never left the West. People of colour continue to experience disadvantage in all walks of life, including exclusion from education, poorer access to healthcare, and over-representation in prisons. 

The West has always marginalised and oppressed communities of colour; racism and white supremacy are therefore woven into the very fabric of Western nations. 

But, while racism has always been part of the Western civilisation, something did indeed change in recent years. 

The continued suppression and silencing of anti-racist voices, both by racists themselves and people who live in the “post-racial” fantasy, paved the way for an unrestrained and overt form of racism to rear its ugly head.

With the increasing legitimisation of race-thinking, white supremacists moved into the White House and Downing Street, and racists became less and less likely to feel the need to hide their views. From monkey chants at football matches to the soaring of hate crime statistics, racism became less concealed and more explicit. Policies like Muslim travel bans, caging of migrant children, building of walls and deportation of Windrush immigrants became the norm not the exception for those in office. In such a climate, it was only a matter of time for someone who supports eugenics to find himself a place in the office of the British prime minister.

Today, the ugliest and most violent forms of racism, such as eugenics, are not confined to neo-Nazi fringes or history books. They are deeply entrenched within the very structures of the mainstream political sphere. They are reinforced daily by sensationalist media reporting, primetime platforming of fascists, and an unregulated online world that incites hatred. In this unforgiving climate, we continue to witness a violent white-lash against racial equality and social justice.

The news of Sabisky’s resignation was a breath of fresh air at a time when we are used to seeing racists being celebrated rather than censored. Nevertheless, his – albeit short – stint as an adviser to the British prime minister should be seen as a warning sign that “misfits” in Downing street and “weirdos” in the White House are not content with simply being in power and are working to reaffirm and re-establish a white supremacy reminiscent of the 19th century.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.